Saints' Best earns spot in Eastern Regional
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on October 21, 2011 1:48 PM
Michala Best quietly and confidently climbed the ladder during her Southern Wayne tennis career.
And she undoubtedly saved her best for last in the season-ending Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference girls' singles tournament.
A senior, Best battled through consolation-round play and earned a trip to the N.C. High School Athletic Association eastern regional, which began this morning at Barton College in Wilson.
"It's a big shocker ... didn't think that I'd see this day," Best said moments after she clinched the league's final regional bid.
Yep, those freshman days as an exhibition player and the next two years as the No. 4 seed in the lineup finally delivered a long-awaited playoff. Difficult, challenging and sometimes frustrating outcomes against the league's elite singles players provided valuable lessons.
Best applied all that knowledge.
"The experience against those players really taught me how to play the ball better, different ways to hit it ... like hard or soft shots," said Best.
It also boosted Best's confidence.
She started quarterfinal-round play in the ECC tournament with a straight-set loss to Eastern Wayne's Jackie Johnson. Best rebounded to defeat Cleveland's Christina Holbrook, and knew one more victory would accomplish a preseason goal.
Nervousness and uneasiness could have easily collided for Best in the fifth-place match against Cleveland sophomore Casey Quiel. But Best easily put those doubts to rest when she broke Quiel's serve and raced to a 3-0 advantage in the pro-set (eight-game) affair.
She smiled to her three-person fan section that included a surprise -- brother Ryan, who hid behind his mother and another relative who sat in lawn chairs behind the fence. Saints head coach John Fonvielle strolled toward the fence and chatted with Best during the 90-second changeover.
"Keep it going," said Fonvielle.
She grabbed a commanding 5-0 lead, but lost the sixth game on an unforced error. Instead of getting rattled, Best hit a deep corner shot that clipped the baseline to take the next game. She turned to Fonvielle and pumped her fist.
Fonvielle gave her a thumbs-up.
Best capitalized on Quiel's first-serve struggles and unforced errors, and prevailed 8-1. The final regional berth was hers.
"I was really nervous," said Best. "I knew she was the second seed (on Cleveland's team) and I expected it to be tougher, but I was really surprised it went by so quickly."